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Reading through Hosea last week for our parish bible study I was struck anew by the significance of the marriage imagery.

Clearly, marriage is a central image as far as understanding Hosea goes, and not just any marriage: “When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”…So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son,” (1:2-3).

Indeed, marriage is a central image throughout both Old and New Testament. The Bible begins with marriage in Genesis:

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (1:27-28).

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2:20b-22, 24).

It ends with a great wedding feast in Revelation:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give [the Lord God Almighty] glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready,” (19:7).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (21:1-2, 5).

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes at one point to wives and husbands (5:22ff) regarding the sort of sacrificial love that ought to define their relationships. Paul points back to Genesis quoting 2:24 (5:31, “For this reason…”). And yet, just here, Paul confronts us with a great mystery: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church,” (5:32).

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There were a few occasions while reading through Hosea that my mind leaped back to Genesis and the account of the Fall there in ch.3, as well as to various points of Israel’s sordid history. For example, consider some of the language that is used to describe Israel’s sin in Hosea: “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval,” (8:4); “My people are determined to turn from me,” (11:7). The language of “unfaithfulness” that permeates the book gets at the same idea. The point is that Israel’s sin had to do with a turning from their God, forsaking his ways for their own ways apart from him.

Was this not the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden? Not a simple act of disobedience but the assertion of the self apart from God. The creature forgetting their creaturely dependence upon (and loving responsibility to) their Creator. The chasm of creation (to borrow a phrase from Ephraim Radner), that is the distinction and separation between Creator and creation, is exaggerated by sin.

A second instance when my mind went to Genesis: “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning,” (8:11); “Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen,” (13:2).

Was this not the created destiny of Adam and Eve, only here disfigured and unrecognizable? Were not Adam and Eve, and all human creatures through them, placed in the garden as priests to tend it and work it and offer it all back to their Creator in thanksgiving so that God might be all in all? Is this not the priestly offering of love that human creatures were created to participate in? Yet, what is the LORD’s charge against Israel through Hosea? The altars that were built for sacrifice have become altars for sinning. The human hands which were meant to work the garden and offer it back to God have become twisted up and now take the earth and form it into idols. Priestly hands became whorish hands. Hands meant to offer became hands that take and hold.

And, of course, the result is what? A lack of fruitfulness: “Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring,” (9:16).

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Eve is born from Adam’s side. So too the church is born from the side of Jesus Christ (“One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John 19:34). Eve was created out of Adam’s side. A distinction. A separation, but a separation for the sake of a union (“one flesh”). And, union for the sake of fruitfulness (“increase in number”). So too with Christ and the church: a separation, an initial movement away, for the sake of a union, a second movement towards. And this union for the sake of life.

This is the gospel, that in Jesus Christ God has come near to that which is totally other than himself, has sacrificially given himself in love to that which is totally other, has taken upon himself that which is alien to him (i.e. human flesh) so that that which is other might be united to him. And why? For the sake of life. Real life. Eternal life.

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God has said no to unfaithful Israel. He has cast them off. God has said no to us. He has cast us off. But how? How has God said no to Israel and to us? How has he cast both them and us off? Is God’s ‘no’ to unfaithful Israel not God’s ‘yes’ to Israel? Has God not cast off Israel in her unfaithfulness precisely in his embrace of Israel in her unfaithfulness (ex. Hosea)? And has not all of this happened in the very person and work of the living Jesus Christ? And has this living and reigning Jesus not grasped us by the wrists and pulled us up out of the pit of despair along with him? Indeed he has!

May we return to the LORD as Hosea exhorted Israel (14:1ff), that we might be united with him in love for the sake of life (14:8, “fruitfulness”).

This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at St. Matthew’s Anglican church in Riverdale. Here is a link to the readings for the day.

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“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Living God, in John’s baptism you reveal Jesus of Nazareth to be your beloved Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! May we like sheep who have gone astray follow the Lamb who has led us once and for all out of slavery to sin and death and into the new country which you have prepared for us in advance. Amen.

During my first semester of seminary a friend of mine, a graduate student in the philosophy department, called me up and wanted to get together for lunch. He had some questions about the atonement, that is, Christ’s work on the cross. I was rather chuffed with myself that he had thought to call. As a first year seminary student, clearly I had something to say about the atonement. The brief synopsis of our conversation over burritos is this: He was hung up on the notion of sacrifice that is attached to the death of Jesus. Why the sacrifice? Why the blood? Why not some other means? As it happened, I was ill-equipped at the time to answer these questions. My friend did not say as much, but in hindsight I am curious if it was really the notion of sacrifice that he could not get around, so much as what Jesus’ sacrificial death might mean for him, a sinful human creature, dependent entirely on God for life and for freedom from sin and death.

I suspect this is at one time or another a problem for many of us. Indeed, atonement theories, following in the wake of St. Anselm for example, that highlight the penal nature of the cross, that is, the punishment of sin that is laid upon Christ in our place, are out of fashion these days. I wonder if this way of thinking about the cross makes us uncomfortable, at least on some level, because we don’t like to think that the overcoming of sin would require the shedding of blood. We don’t like to think that it was our sin that led Jesus to the cross. This brings to mind notions of guilt, and guilt means that something is expected of us, and we do not take kindly to the sort of expectations that might hinder the self-directed expression of our own wills and desires. To be fair, these theories are not without their problems, but my point here this morning is that John, in fact, draws a clear connection between Christ’s death and our sin, and he does so by holding up Jesus as the Lamb of God: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The very heart of Christ’s sacrifice, said Karl Barth, is the overcoming of sin, both in its character as our rebellion against God, and in its character as the ground of our hopeless destiny in death. In pointing to Jesus as “God’s Lamb” John is indicating, right here at the start of the gospel story, how things are going to end, and why. Jesus is going to die a sacrificial death for the sin of the world, to judge sin and to free us from it and its power which is manifest in all forms of death, including eternal death. Indeed, by the end of the story the meaning has been made clear. John has the death of Jesus take place on the afternoon when the Passover lambs were being killed in the Temple (19:14). Let us now look towards the Old Testament that we might better understand what John is trying to tell us.

The Passover is a Jewish feast that celebrates the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and their being spared from death by smearing the blood from a spotless lamb on the frames of their doors. This event developed into a ritualized meal providing the occasion for celebration, reflection, and the formation of community identity. The lamb, once slaughtered, was then roasted and shared by the family with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:8-11). This shared household meal provides the context for the head of the family to explain the nature of the observance to the children (12:25-27). Gathered together, the youngest would ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” To which the oldest member of the community, seated before the sacrificed lamb, responds by telling of the exodus of the Jewish people, of their departure in the middle of the night under the guidance of the Lord God Himself, present in the pillar of cloud and of fire. He would tell of Moses stretching out his staff over the Red Sea, the waters splitting in two, and of the great passage of Israel between the walls of water. He would tell of the waters coming crashing down on Pharaoh and his armies as the Lord delivered the Hebrews once and for all from their Egyptian oppressors. The “remembrance” of Passover is combined with the “retelling” of the story in such a way that the events of the past are actualized  for every Israelite in the context of the meal. Each family member is caught up in the story, it is their story. As such, Passover came to celebrate not only what God had done in the past but also what God is doing in the present.

After the Hebrews are brought out of Egypt they wander through the desert for 40 years before finally entering the promised land. There, Joshua leads the Hebrews across the Jordan where they stop at a place called Gilgal, and do you know what they did? They celebrated the Passover (5:10-12) and, say the Scriptures, “On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain,” (5:11). Thus, Passover not only marks the exit from Egypt, but also marks the entry into the land of promise. Is this not what Isaiah in his own way signifies when he says that the glory of God is made manifest in the servant who is a light to the nations and who spreads the salvation of God to the ends of the earth? Is this not what John the Evangelist means to tell us when the Lamb of God, upon whom the Spirit descends like a dove at his baptism, immediately gathers disciples and who by the end of the gospel will breath on these disciples that they may receive that very Holy Spirit themselves? Indeed it is!

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When John begins his gospel with the proclamation that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” he does so to call all of this to mind. Let me suggest to you that the reason he does so is because John wants us to understand the events concerning Jesus as a new, and better, Exodus story: “Just as God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, so God was now bringing a new people out of an even older and darker slavery,” (N.T. Wright). The new exodus moves out, wider than just Israel, to embrace all people. This is hinted at already in the Prologue to John’s gospel (1:12-13). Everybody who receives the Word, who believes in his name, can become a newborn child of God. John the Baptist came to testify to this and he did so by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out int he wilderness…” (1:23). Let us then hear the word of the Lord to the prophet Isaiah from this mornings’ reading. Speaking of the servant of the Lord who would suffer and die he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” (49:6). Who is this servant that will bring the salvation of God to the world? It is the “lamb that is led to the slaughter,” (53:7) who was “cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people,” (53:8). That Jesus is the Lamb of God means not only freedom from our slavery to sin and death, it means also that a new future opens up to us right here in the present, in which we are united to God and receive from Him the life which He gives and the light which comes from Him as we are born anew in the Spirit.

This Holy Spirit whom we have received, like the Passover, and like the Suffering Servant, gathers and forms a community. Are we not a testimony to that here this morning and in our common life? The old humanity which created enmity between human creatures and between humanity and God, ruled as it was by sin and sin itself was taken and killed and buried in and with Jesus on the cross. One person, Jesus Christ, has made an end of us as sinners and therefore has made an end of sin itself by going to death as the One who took our place. Should we believe this, should we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God as proclaimed by John the Baptist, and should we follow him like John’s disciples, then we are joined to him and he to us, for God has established a New Covenant, by the blood of his Son rather than by the blood of an ox. And he has given us His own Spirit, rather than the Law. “He put a new song in my mouth,” says the Psalmist (40:3). At the time of the Former Covenant, Moses alone went up into the holy mountain and his face was illumined with divine light (Exodus 34:35). But with the New Covenant, the veil of the Temple which separated the Holy of Holies from the place where the faithful were assembled is torn in two and all who believe have access to the light of the holy mountain (John 4:20-26), for the blood of the New Covenant was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins,” (The Living God vl.1).

At the end of John’s gospel in accordance with the Old Testament prophets, rather than Jesus’ legs being broken to hasten his death as he hung on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a spear and out flowed blood and water. When the Lamb of God is portrayed in artwork it is often with blood and water flowing out of a wound in the Lambs’ side and into a chalice. In the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, all of what we’ve been talking about this morning comes into focus. As we approach the table in a few moments don’t just follow the words on the page as Fr. Ajit prays. Make that prayer your own because it is the prayer of the whole church. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb,” writes John in Revelation (19:9). Who is invited? What is the bridal feast of the Lamb? Let us seek out the Lamb that comes to us from Moses, is illumined by Isaiah, indicated by John the Baptist, and recognized by John the Evangelist in the thrust of a spear. Let us seek out the Lamb of God and run to his bridal feast. Or rather, may we see that he sought us out before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Let us prepare ourselves to partake of it. As St. Paul exhorts the largely Gentile church in Corinth: “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

God has done that which is sufficient to take away sin, to restore order between the Creator and His creation, to bring us in as new creatures reconciled and therefore at peace with Him, to redeem us from our exile in death. God has done this in Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for the sin of the world. Because of this, our forgiven sin is an old thing—the essence of all that is old, something which is past and done with, which is only the past, which is not the present and has no future (Barth). This is what it means to be made a new creature: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Let us keep the feast. May we rejoice and be glad, may we continue to tell the story, and continue to live the story as our lives are caught up into the ongoing work of Jesus, the light of the nations. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and who has gone to prepare a feast. May we follow him today and may we find others and invite them to do the same. Amen.

Over the last couple of years I have developed a great interest in the figural reading of Scripture. There have been a number of influences for me here. Individual scholars/priests such as Ephraim Radner and John Behr. (I once heard Radner describe figural reading thus: “The temporal explication through the juxtaposition of her multiple texts, of scriptures’ divine “allness”.) A growing familiarity with the way in which the Church Fathers read and exegete the Scriptures. The Biblical emphasis in the NT on Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension being “in accordance with” the Scriptures (by which the NT writers mean the OT). Also, this last year we’ve begun a Bible study at church whereby we’re reading through the Bible in one year. We started with the gospels, and then jumped from there right into the OT beginning with Genesis 1:1. It’s been really fascinating to observe people in the group making connections, and seeing Jesus in the OT in light of the gospels which we began our study with.

At the moment we’re reading through Jeremiah. In my study this morning I read through a portion that included Jeremiah 25 that contains this fascinating image of the cup of God’s wrath being poured out, not only on Israel but, “upon all who live on the earth.” It can all appear rather confrontational and fierce, and indeed it is. However, right there in the middle of this section the reader stumbles upon this:

The LORD will roar from on high; he will thunder from his holy dwelling and roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes,* shout against all who live on the earth. The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgement on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,” (25:30-31).

Pretty terrifying stuff, yeah? When I read this portion, I thought of another place in the Scriptures where the Lord roared from on high and it resounded to the ends of the earth:

“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split,” (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51).

The cup of God’s wrath has indeed been poured out upon Israel and upon all who live on the earth. It was done so as it was poured out on Christ Jesus, the true Israel, who takes all nations and all humanity up into his own human flesh and bears out the consequences of human sin on behalf of all humanity. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand…my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities,” (53: 10, 11).

*evidently those who tread upon grapes shout. Who knew? Which makes me think of this, actually.

Every year I say that I’d like to read more and that never really seems to happen, what with the business of two children, work, etc. This year I’d like to be more diligent with my reading. Here are the books that I’d like to read this year, most of which are currently sitting on my shelves. Aside from 2-3 of these that I have read, all will be a first time through for me.

Theology (15)

Living God I & II (Orthodox Catechism); The Nicene Faith I & II, John Behr; Dogmatics in Outline, Karl Barth; Church Dogmatics I.1 & I.2, Karl Barth; Confessions, Augustine; Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart; Beauty of the Infinite, David Bentley Hart; Hope Among The Fragments, Ephraim Radner; Rule of Faith, Ephraim Radner & George Sumner; The Fate of Communion, Ephraim Radner etc.; Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf; The Book of Common Prayer, A Biography, Alan Jacobs

(Political?) Philosophy (3)

Debt, David Graeber; After Virtue, Alistair McIntyre; The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels

Chaplaincy (3)

Spiritual Care, Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Suffering Presence, Stanley Hauerwas; The Minister as Diagnostician, Paul Pruyser

Literature (10)

Dubliners, James Joyce; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce; The Violent Bear it Away, Flannery O’Connor; Crime & Punishment, Dostoevsky; The Idiot, Dostoevsky; The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky; No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy; All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy; Hamlet, Shakespeare; King Lear, Shakespeare

Classics (3)

The Divine Comedy, Dante; The Odyssey, Homer; The Aeneid, Virgil

Poetry (4)

Selected Works, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Selected Works, W.B. Yeats; The World in the Shadow of God, Ephraim Radner; Sinners Welcome, Mary Karr

Parenting (2)

The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine; Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Laura Markham

So, there you have it, 40 in all. Frankly, I will be impressed with myself if I can make it. I’ve always enjoyed reading theology, but this year I’d like to read more literature, so I’ve included 17 such works (Lit, Classics, Poetry). I also picked two “practical” categories which are pertinent for me chaplaincy (my job), and parenting.

Also, this list does not include other reading that I’ll have to keep up with. I’m audting a course with Radner this semester that will involve a good amount of reading. It also does not include Biblical studies stuff related to preaching, my subscription to First Things, blogs, news, and most importantly, the Bible.

Here’s to a good year.

ps – What have you read this past year that you think I should read to?

This sermon was preached on the third Sunday of Advent, December 15th, 2013 at St. Matthew’s Riverdale.

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A Sermon on Being Sent Ahead.

A prayer of St. Augustine: May that Sun shine upon us, from which that lamp (speaking of John the Baptist) derived its flame.

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The point: John was sent into the world to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. In a similar way, the church is sent into the world to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. This “preparing the way” is what Advent is all about. Christ has come once but not yet twice and until that happens our life together ought to reflect a community of people that is waiting for and anticipating just such an event.

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“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” This question, which John and his disciples pose to Jesus, is a pertinent one for us today. I haven’t done any empirically verifiable research or anything but just from my own observations it seems to me that there are few people out there that actually deny the historical existence of Jesus all together. There are some, of course, but they’re hardly taken seriously even in the world of secular academia. And so the question usually isn’t, “Did or did not Jesus exist?” but rather, “Who was/is Jesus?” In our gospel reading today we see that right from the start of Jesus’ ministry this was a live question: “Are you the one who is to come?” Or, do we keep on waiting? What makes this question perhaps even more pertinent for us today is that we do not have Jesus standing before us as the disciples of John did. The church has always made certain claims about Jesus and done so in his absence, as it were. Just as John’s disciples were waiting, so too we wait though our waiting is of a slightly different sort. This can be frustrating for believer and non-believer alike. If Jesus really is who he says he is why does he not make this obvious? Why must we rely on the Bible and on other people to tell us this? Why can’t we just figure it all out on our own? Why the waiting?

​Are you the one who is to come? The one who is to come? What’s all that about, really? We should hear this question in light of the verse that preceded it: “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…”. The Messiah; the one who is to come. Broadly speaking, the question that John’s disciples ask Jesus concerns expectations and hopes that Israel had about their future, expectations and hopes that at present were unrealized. Take, for example, our reading from Isaiah this morning. We have language of the desert blossoming abundantly, of God coming with vengeance to help his people, of a highway running through the desert upon which the righteous come home to Zion with singing and dancing. Now, if you are familiar with Isaiah, and those of us who have been reading through the Bible together have just read through Isaiah, you’ll know that at the time Isaiah was prophesying the people of Israel were divided into two kingdoms. Their idolatry, that is their refusal to worship the one true God and to live in faithfulness to the covenant that he made with them, led to a murderous division. As a judgement upon all of this, Israel would be led into exile under Babylonian captivity.

​Indeed, only four chapters after our reading from this morning the prophet Isaiah confronts King Hezekiah: “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the LORD,” (39:5-6). But this judgement, this exile, will not be permanent. It will not last forever as our reading this morning attests. A highway will be set-up in the desert, “and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” (35:10). Granted, there is no mention of a Messiah in our reading from Isaiah, however, over time Israel’s hope for a future restoration, a time when God would set things right, became associated with a Messianic figure. ‘Messiah’ simply means “anointed one”, as does ‘Christ’, a kingly figure that would, in essence, liberate Israel from oppression and usher in God’s presence and peace once and for all. As we heard this morning one of the ways Isaiah describes this day is as such: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy,” (35:5-6). We see this very same theme in Psalm 146 which we sang together this morning: “The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,” (v7-8).

​Are you the one who is to come or should we keep waiting? A straight-forward question deserving of a straight-forward answer, is it not? Yet, Jesus does not give such an answer. He could have simply said, “Yes, I am he!” But no, rather: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,” (11:4-5). While this is not as direct and clear of an answer as Jesus could have perhaps given it ought to be revealing, both to us today and to John’s disciples then, particularly in light of the Scriptures from Isaiah and the Psalms which we heard together this morning. Simply put, the signs that would accompany Israel’s long awaited and hoped for future, a future in which God would come as judge to finally set things right, were being made manifest in Jesus’ own ministry. Are you the one who is to come? Consider what you hear and see, says Jesus, and discern for yourselves whether I am he. Indeed, in Christ, those in prison have been liberated and set free. In Christ, those in exile have returned home with great joy. Yet, the truth that God has come to our rescue in Jesus is not particularly obvious, rather, it requires witnesses: Go and tell John what you hear and see.

​However, believer and non-believer alike often assume that any god worth believing in should not depend on witnesses to be made known (Hauerwas). Rather, any god worth his or her salt would be obviously known, as a sort of general principle, either through introspection or by observing the world around us. So, if the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead requires witnesses, then this would suggest that what Christians believe about this God must be false. On the contrary, if the God Christians worship as Trinity could be known without witnesses, then such a God actually would not exist precisely because the God Christians worship is not a general truth but is the particular Jesus Christ (Hauerwas). It is no accident then that Jesus calls disciples and, after his ascension, pours out his Spirit forming a community that embodies the gospel and thus bears witness to the risen Jesus. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some take offense at Jesus—because he cannot be known apart from witnesses. We do not simply know the character of the world, or ourselves, or God instinctively, we need to be told these things. I was in Starbucks with a friend last weekend. A man neither of us knew saw the Bible in my friend’s hand and took that as an opportunity to tell my friend that everything in the Bible was a fairytale and that my friend was an idiot for believing any of it and that he could find god if he simply ignored the Bible and looked within himself: “I am god, you are god!” he said. However, the god that one finds in oneself or in a beautiful sunrise is likely not the God the church worships. The God the church worships is not a general principle that we can find “out there” or “in here”, but is concretely “the God of Jacob” (Psalm 146:5) “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them,” (146:6). The Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, takes on flesh in Christ Jesus as was foretold by the Old Testament Prophets, and in and through and by this very act, the very act of assuming human flesh, helps and redeems his people. Thus, we cannot know the Father apart from the Son (Mt. 11:27) and we cannot know ourselves apart from the God who takes on human flesh in Christ Jesus, and we cannot know any of this apart from the community whose task it is to bear witness to such truth.

​In order that the church might adequately bear witness more is required than words. The truth of God in Christ is borne out in the world in and through a community which not only proclaims but embodies this truth, or rather, is embodied by the truth that is Jesus. That is, the language we use to bear witness to Jesus, in our worship and confession and so on, cannot be divorced from the life of the church. To speak Christianly means that the speakers’ lives must correspond with what they say. The very grammar of Christian speech presumes that those who use the language have a character that is consistent with it (Hauerwas). As such, “witness” names the reality that we cannot speak the truth without it having worked truthfully in us. We cannot bear witness to the risen and living Jesus if that very Jesus is not working in us, transforming us into his likeness. This is what it means for the church to wait, as we do liturgically during Advent. To wait is to be a community that has been and is being formed into the likeness of Jesus. Thus, the witness of Jesus’ disciples has a definite shape. We see this in the tenth chapter of Matthew which I cannot go over here but encourage you to read yourself. Simply put, as Jesus is about to send them out as bearers of news, we see that they themselves are to be the exemplification of what they have to say. And none of this is really their own doing, for to whatever degree their lives bear faithful witness, this is the result of a gift they have been given. The same is true for the church today. Insofar as we actually do bear faithful witness to the risen Jesus in our life together, we need not get too excited with ourselves, but rather humbly thank God for his grace at work in us.

​“But how can you say such things? The church is full of hypocrites!” Indeed. To be sure, the disciples often provide inadequate witness to Jesus and a quick glimpse at the history of the church as well as it’s current state reveals that this is not an isolated matter. Heck, we need look no further than ourselves. Yet, just here, the inadequacy of our witness is itself also a kind of witness. We have been called to live lives that point to Jesus—lives that are unintelligible if the one we follow is not the Son of God. Sometimes our pointing is off direction, but this is revealed precisely as Christ is unveiled and our inadequacies are marked in relation to him. Like the sleeping disciples in the garden or Peter warming himself by the fire, even our failures are given focus in relation to Jesus to whom we witness (I am indebted to Stanley Hauerwas’ Brazos commentary on Matthew for this last paragraph).

​Our word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”. John was sent on ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for his coming. And indeed, when Jesus came out to John to be baptized John proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…the Son of God! (John 1:29, 34). But the season of Advent is not simply about celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world 2,000 years ago. For the Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, which is commonly used to refer to the second coming of Christ. Thus, Advent offers both the opportunity to share in Israel’s ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his second coming. Advent carries this double meaning. The church, like John, is not “the one who is to come,” but has been sent into the world by Jesus to prepare the way for his coming. However, situated as we are, we bear witness not only to the fact that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself but additionally that this Jesus who redeemed all of creation in his life, death, and resurrection ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence he will come again to judge the world. We so bear witness to the coming of Jesus only as the proclamation of the truth of the Scriptures forms us, and as our life so formed proclaims the truth of Scripture. “May that Sun shine upon us, from which that lamp derived it’s flame.” May our life together enable the world to hear and see that Jesus is indeed “the one who is to come”, and that he is coming again, and blessed is anyone who takes no offense at him. Amen.

This sermon was preached at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Riverdale, Toronto on Sunday, November 17th.

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ignatius3

A Sermon on Being a Witness at the End of the World.

“This will give you an opportunity to testify…Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” (Luke 21:13, 33).

 

Father in heaven, gather us into the passion of your son Christ Jesus by your Spirit, that our life together may be an eternal word that testifies to the Word. Amen.

 

At the very beginning of the second century St. Ignatius of Antioch was being led captive to Rome where he would meet his martyrdom by being fed to wild beasts in the Colosseum. There are some really wonderful icons and works of art that picture Ignatius being eaten by lions. At any rate, as he was being led to Rome he wrote a few letters, one of which was to the church there in Rome. He writes, “I am afraid that your affection for me may do me harm.” The harm that he foresaw their affection doing was to attempt to intervene on his behalf and save him from his impending death. He exhorted them to remain silent and make no attempt to rescue him: “For if you are silent and leave me to my doom, then am I a word of God; but if you set your hearts on my physical existence, I shall again be a mere cry.”

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“Then am I a word of God.” Not the Word of God, of course, but a word of God. In our reading from Luke today Jesus tells his disciples, “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict,” (21:12-15). Well, actually, that last line might be better translated literally: “for I will give you a mouth and a wisdom.” The disciples will testify or, bear witness, to Jesus he says, but they will not be left to their own devices to do so, Jesus himself will give them a mouth. And indeed, the early Christians much like Ignatius, did become a word of God, a testimony, a witness. Jesus gave them a mouth. We see this quite clearly in Acts (Part II to Luke’s gospel). The early Christians suffered just as Jesus predicted. They were handed over to the religious councils, they were thrown in prison, they were persecuted and brought before kings and governors. Consider the first Christian martyr, Stephen. We read of his story in Acts 6-7. Some of those who belonged to the synagogue would argue with him but we are told, “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke,” (6:10). So, they seized him and brought him before the council (6:12). Indeed, as Jesus foretold, this presented Stephen with an opportunity to testify and that he did. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gave a lengthy speech at the conclusion of which he accuses the religious leaders of opposing the Holy Spirit and refusing to keep the law which they received. Luke tells us that when they heard these things, “they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen,” (7:54), then they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Following Stephen’s death “a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison,” (Acts 8:1-3).

Now two things that are worth noting here. First, the Greek word that is translated “testify” in v13 is martyrion which comes from the root martys. This is obviously where we get the word martyr. Thus, Ignatius’ actual death as a martyr, as well as Stephens’, was a testimony. What did they bear witness to? To Jesus. That is, as Ignatius was being devoured by lions, and as Stephen was being stoned to death, they imitated or rather shared in Christ’s own passion. Perhaps no where is this clearer than in the words which Stephen speaks at his own death: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died, (7:59-60). This, of course, echos Jesus’ own words from the cross: “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them: for they do not know what they are doing”…Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last,” (Luke 23:34, 46). Luke ends his gospel with the resurrected Jesus opening the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” (24:45-47). Jesus then continues, “You are witnesses of these things,” (24:48). Indeed they are. Indeed Stephen was who, at his own death, “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said,” I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56). The second thing to note is that their bearing witness, our bearing witness, is a gift. It is not something we muster up the strength to do: “Today I will testify to the risen Jesus!” “No!” says Jesus. A) You won’t have to try to bear witness, “they” will give you plenty of opportunities when they arrest you and persecute you and so on, and B) you’re not to bother preparing your defense in advance: “for I will give you a mouth and a wisdom.” And, indeed, we are given his Spirit who dwells in us richly. “My words will not pass away,” for I will make you my words. In Christ Jesus, we become eternal words that bear witness to the Word.

And just here, we must adjust our gaze from the disciples who suffered to Jesus. Because while Jesus does indeed predict the suffering of his followers, those words who testify to Christ, these words in Luke are really about Jesus. After all, Christians will suffer all of this persecution, because of Jesus (Luke 21:12): “You will be hated by all because of my name,” (21:17). The suffering of the words bear witness to and share in the suffering of the Word. The signs and the persecutions that we see in our reading from Luke today are not simply an apocalyptic catalogue of woes to be poured out at a later date. What we see is a picture of the dying and rising Saviour who reigns in the midst of universal shipwreck. Jesus tells about the destruction of the temple, but is Jesus simply concerned with cursing the temple? In John 2 after clearing the temple the religious leaders demand a sign from Jesus to prove that he has the authority to do such things. Jesus answers them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” (2:19). No doubt a confusing answer for Jesus’ opponents but John continues on to explain: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body,” (2:21). In light of this, Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple would seem to refer not only to the actual temple, which was destroyed in 70AD, but more-so to Jesus’ own death and resurrection. The cross casts a shadow to which the end of time itself conforms. Indeed, the predictions which Jesus made regarding the persecution of the church is the pattern of Jesus’ own passion. He was betrayed by his friend Judas, denied by Peter, beaten, arrested, and handed over to the Jewish Council. He is brought before both the governor, Pilate, and the king, Herod. Jesus himself is the testimony that is proclaimed to all nations, the testimony of the cross, Jesus’ own martyrdom. He is silent before his accusers. I could continue on, but I think you get the point. “However much Jesus may be using conventional, end-of-the-age imagery here, he is proclaiming that his own end in his death and the resurrection is the key to it all,” (Robert Farrar Capon). And while he was also speaking of an end beyond the next few days, he radically refigured it by making himself, dead and risen, the cornerstone of it. That is, Jesus is the ultimate end to which the end conforms.

The crucified and risen Jesus stands at the center of time and takes up all things into himself. In the life Jesus lives he fulfills all of scripture, past and future events, and indeed all of time which is taken up into Christ as Paul writes in Ephesians: “[God the Father] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (1:9-10). Those of us who are in Christ have arrived at the end, because Jesus is the end: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” (Rev. 22:13). And because Jesus is the end, that is, the goal of all things and the fulfillment of all things, he will reign forever, “and of his kingdom there will be no end,” as Luke told us all the way back in the very first chapter (1:33). We are those on whom, as Paul wrote, the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11). And, because it is the end, it entails judgement. Christ’s death and resurrection is judgement by grace, standing as God’s ultimate, vindicating sentence on the whole world.

Judgement, this is something else all of our readings from this morning have in common. Our reading from Isaiah is about God’s glorious New Creation, and is immediately preceded by a passage about the righteousness of God’s judgement. From this mornings Psalm: “Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity,” (98:8-9). Thessalonians is set in the context of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1) who will judge righteously (1:5-12). In Christ, who is the end of the world, judgement has come into the world, and it is good. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately,” (21:9). That is to say, Jesus saves the world in its death, not out of it. “But the end will not follow immediately.” Redemption involves neither the rejection of the world in its folly nor the remedying of that folly by a heavy-handed intervention. Rather, redemption “consists in letting the folly go all the way into death and then bringing resurrection out of that death,” (Capon). “For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth: the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,” (Isaiah 65:17). And of course, the Christian life is entered into via the death that is baptism, in which our life and our death is taken up into Christ’s death and his resurrection life. In which our old clothes are drowned and we put on our new clothes, the risen Jesus Christ. Therefore, when the church proclaims that the future is amenable to reform, that the kingdom can be built here by plausible devices, by something other than the mystery of Christ’s passion, we are simply blowing a lot of hot hair. Sooner or later, the world is going down the drain; “only a Saviour who is willing to work at the bottom of the drain can redeem it,” (Capon). The world does indeed have a future and the church alone anticipates and proclaims that future, “but the future is neither pie on earth nor pie in the sky. It is resurrection from the dead – and without death, there can be no resurrection,” (Capon).

The disciples as well as the world, you and I as well as our neighbours, have been and will be caught up in the passion of Jesus. This is the end of the world, and we are witnesses to it. Jesus said that his words will not pass away. We, like Ignatius, are his words if we are in him and if we persevere and regard trials, indeed, regard our whole life together, as an occasion not for our own promotion or preservation but for death, our death in Christ’s death, that the very life of the church may be a testimony, here at the end of the world. Amen.

Here’s a great little video from ABC Justin on the grace and mystery of baptism, in light of the baptism of HRH Prince George of Cambridge.

What a great quote from the Church of Scotland:

“For you Jesus Christ came into the world. For you he lived and showed God’s love. For you he suffered the darkness of Calvary, and cried at the last, “It is accomplished!” For you he triumphed over death and raised new life. For you he reigns at God’s right hand. All this he did for you…though you do not know it yet.”

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